Strong Men
Strong Marriage

Martin G. Friedman is the author of “Straight Talk for Men About Marriage—What Men Need to Know About Marriage (And What Women Need to Know About Men)”. For many years, Marty Friedman taught corporate managers how to create good relationships at work before tackling male/female relationship issues--and applying what he learned to his own marriage. The founder of Men in Marriage, Marty is regularly interviewed on radio and television, and talks to organizations and individuals from a unique, inspirational and humorous perspective. Find out more at

Assessment for Men in Marriage
Do Men Need to Be More Like Women?
Five Things for Men NOT to Do On Valentine's Day
Going Out With the Guys
John Hanley Interviews Marty Feldman about Marriage
It’s Time to Become “Relationship Warriors”
A Marriage Manifesto for Men

Pursuing Your Wife - After the Wedding

You Belong to Me

Five Things for Men NOT to Do On Valentine's Day

1. DON'T expect that giving a nice card and a gift or two should definitely lead to a hot night in bed. They should be the start to a nice evening, not a guarantee.

2. DON'T give a generic card, with just your signature. Instead, write specific reasons you care about and appreciate your "Valentine".

3. DON'T expect that giving a Valentine card to a woman you like is going to move the relationship from "just friends" to "you're the one".

4. DON'T buy generic gifts for the special woman you love, e.g., a Vermont Teddy Bear for a woman who doesn't like stuffed animals; perfume if she doesn't like the scent; chocolate if she's on a diet. Take the time to get something special for her. (And if you don’t know what she wants, there’s no shame in asking for suggestions.)

5. DON’T underestimate how important romance may be for your woman—even if you think it’s silly.

A Marriage Manifesto for Men

Many men are weakened and befuddled by the challenges of 21st Century marriage. We can stand up to the new tests of marriage and face them with strength and strong intention. Here is a statement of principles for married men.

1. We will use our true masculine power and energy to make a good marriage. (No more macho, no more "Sensitive New Age Guy".)

2. We will become 100% responsible for our relationship’s success.

3. We will say what we want and need in a responsible way and expect the same from our spouses.

4. We will never abuse our marriage partners, either verbally our physically.

5. We will not accept male bashing from our women; it’s wonderful to be a man, and we won’t accept that we are broken are “wrong” just because we are a man.

6. We will do our best to listen to our mates and give them our full attention, but we may do it differently than women and with less tolerance for long talks about “the relationship”.

7. We will listen deeply to criticism from our women and take it to heart, but we will not accept abusive attacks.

8. We will take 100% responsibility for our own problems, issues and tendencies and not expect our women to carry our emotional baggage, although we very much value their help.

9. We will do our best to connect with our mates before and during sex, and make it a pleasurable experience for them.

10. We are in our marriages for the long-haul. We know that the grass will sometimes look greener elsewhere, yet we will stay where we are, knowing that marriage is the best vehicle for us to become stronger and more loving individuals.

John Hanley Interviews Marty Feldman about Marriage

John: Ok, Marty, let’s talk about marriage here. The first thing I want to ask you is what do you think is the significance of marriage itself as opposed to a so-called committed relationship? What is the advantage of marriage?

Marty: I think that’s a really interesting question, a great question, because I think that the advantage of marriage as opposed to a committed relationship is very subtle. It’s even a metaphysical question. I think that by standing in front of whatever group of family and friends and community and God and making a promise and a commitment and having your heart exposed that way, I think that there is a metaphysical change in your own state and your own commitment that happens. And so I believe in marriage for that reason, among many. I want to say one other thing: I think that the purpose of marriage and any long-term committed relationship needs to evolve. And part of what my work is and what my book is is to clarify what might be a purpose that would work for many people in the 21st century, as relationships have gotten more difficult and their purpose more cloudy.

John: Ok. So just to be clear, some couple who says they’re committed to each other for life but they’re not married, you think they could be missing out in the sense that there’s something that happens when you declare it to your whole community that it’s going to be for life?

Marty: Yeah. I do believe that, and yet everybody has to make their own decision. But I believe that declarations are very powerful and that having a ceremony and a ritual, however you put that together, is very powerful. And that doesn’t mean a declared marriage is necessarily going to last any longer. What I mean is that the feeling and the commitment and the stakes are higher, in my view, when you have a ritual, when you have a full wedding, however you define wedding. And at the same time, a person who has a long-term committed relationship and isn’t married, this is not to say that they can’t have a good relationship. That’s not really my point.

John: Uh-huh. Yeah. It’s just that Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell looked so cute in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Marty: Yeah. I’ll agree with that.

John: And when they committed to be with each other, to not be married for the rest of their lives, it’s just…it sounded very beguiling.

Marty: Well, it is beguiling in the same way that marriage is beguiling. And the truth is those movies that we’ve grown up on are almost always built on illusions and fallacies, just as the magazines and books and the rest of the stories we hear about relationships are fallacies. They’re built on quicksand, and they’re built on romantic illusions. I’m for romance, and I like it. But to build a relationship on romance, I think, is the height of idiocy. And it’s caused so much trouble in our society as our expectations are way out of line with the reality of marriage. That’s why I was suggesting earlier that what we need to do to create long-term relationships and marriages in the 21st century is to clarify what the purpose of marriage is now that we can leave marriage at any time with very little censure from the community and while many women have the economic power to leave relationships. So, “Why be married?” I think, is the question that we need to grapple with.

John: And do you see that there is a range of possible effective purposes, or do you have one in mind in particular that’s going to work for people?

Marty: I think that any high purpose that brings a couple together in something greater than their own selfish interest can work. For example, having your relationship purpose be to travel the world and uplift humanity through your work with charity, I think that might work. However, the purpose that I’m most familiar with and that I advocate is different. And the purpose that I advocate is to make your relationship become a vehicle for personal, psychological and spiritual growth and to use the challenges of marriage to whittle away your ego and uplift yourself into becoming a more loving and strong person. After all, the purpose of life as you grow older and begin to understand it is beyond survival. It’s to have more love and to learn how to serve other people. And I think marriage is a great vehicle for learning that.

John: Ok. Now, when you think about most people up at the altar or wherever and they’re saying their wedding vows, do you think they really get the content of what they are saying? Are they really buying in to the words they are saying?

Marty: Absolutely not. I think even people who have the very best intentions don’t get the full import of what they’re committing to, nor could they. The truth is you really don’t know what marriage is like and what the challenges are until you’ve been in it quite a while. After we’ve been married for a while the ego raises its ugly head, and our partner’s ego raises its ugly head, and we begin to have power struggles and challenges and problems with children and finances and all the rest of it that makes marriage such a challenging proposition. And I don’t think there’s any way we could know that fully when we’re up there at that altar saying “I do”.

John: Yeah. So when people are saying till death do us part they don’t really get that. And so they don’t really take on the posture of total surrender that that would entail and then it’s no surprise it doesn’t work out, right?

Marty: Well, I think that’s right. And at the same time, I believe that often people’s commitment level and understanding of being together changes over time. For example, at first when we have troubles and we get married, the first few years of marriage we may say we’re going to stay together until we get something settled, or until we can’t stand it any longer. And then if we have children, we say, I’m going to stay together until the kids get a little older and they can deal with us separating. And then we say, I’ll stay together just a little longer and then I’ll probably leave. And then after a while we may come around to the idea that, “I’m going to stay together regardless of what happens, because this is the path of my greatest challenge and also the path of my greatest growth.” And you see marriage then as an opportunity rather than just a hassle. But it may take a while to get to that understanding.

John: Yeah. Yeah. And if you think about it, the whole notion of staying fully committed to someone for one’s whole life, for the rest of one’s life, really is alien to people because you look at the families that don’t even stay together.

Marty: That’s right.

John: Children lose touch with their parents and their siblings. And how many friends do we really stay in contact with over the long run? It seems like we’ve grown to be kind of nomadic about our relationships.

Marty: Yeah. I agree with that. I mean, that’s certainly true as our society has gotten more mobile and relationships have become almost disposable in some peoples’ minds. And as I said before, the forces that used to conspire to hold marriages together, economic power, the church, the society, the community, and others, those forces are now so weak that for a lot of people there’s no reason to stay together when things get hard. And we don’t have good models by and large in our society for people to stay together a long time and make it work. People often say, well, what about couples who are in that World War II generation? They stayed together through thick and thin, through the depression, the war, and old age, and they were together for 50 years or more. And it’s true. The baby boom generation rebelled against a lot of those kinds of marriages and values because we saw that behind the continuity and the stability of those marriages there often was a lot of misery. People played these strong roles and yet they were many times unhappy in their marriages. Yet they didn’t feel powerful enough to leave them.

So we don’t really have very many role models for what it looks like to have a relationship of integrity and of mutual strengths and strong bonds, a dynamic where one person is changing one way and another person is changing another way, and yet you stay together. I think very often what people think is that a marriage or long-term relationship should be based on mutual interests. I mean, it’s funny to me when you read many of the personal ads and people talk about what they’re interested in. “I want a person to go mountain climbing with, to have long walks at sunset on the beach, and beautiful candlelight dinners”, and so on… I mean, who doesn’t want those things? But will they really keep you together? Are they fundamental to a relationship? I think not.

John: Right. And it sounds like in days of old, the sort of ethical imperative to stay together kind of forced people to stay with it. And now as you say that’s not as prominent anymore which in a way could be really a great opportunity for people because staying together out of a “should”, out of “I have to”, as you say, it’s going to create misery anyway. So it sounds like we have a great opportunity now to be more responsible for our choices.

Marty: It’s a great point. We have an opportunity to create something that’s not been created in most cultures around the world. And that is relationships that are together completely by choice over a long period of time, one’s where there’s power sharing and growth as the purpose of the marriage. And that’s new. And those kinds of relationships will last if we want them to last. But the only factor that will keep them together is our own commitment, our own understanding of the purpose of our marriage.

And, you know, if you look at it closely what you see going on in many marriages right now is that women are figuring out that relationships have changed a lot and that they have a lot more power. Their expectations are greater. They want fulfillment. They want romance. They want communication. They want intimacy. And men very often want it to be like it used to be, where we come home and kick off our shoes, and get into the Barcalounger and grab the clicker, and we’re off duty. We want it to be like the old days in some ways where we have a lot of power and bringing home the money at the end of the day is enough. What we had to do before was simply to provide for and protect our families. And our women took care of us and our children and the household. And in some ways, those roles were very stable and sometimes even supportive. But in many, many places now, especially on both the coasts, those roles are dissolving. And I think men are really behind the curve in that change. And my work is to alert men to ways of catching up and making marriage work for us instead of feeling like we’re being dragged into this new era.

John: Right. So men are still stuck in this pattern of having relationships as a kind of convenience it sounds like. And is that because we’re afraid of intimacy?

Marty: I think there are many reasons. One is certainly that a lot of men are afraid of intimacy. And we’ve been told since we were children not to show our feelings, and we’re called babies or sissies or even women or girls which is one of the worst things that a lot of little boys hear. So that is true. It’s also true that men often don’t look at their own relationships as a big priority in their life. That sounds strange, and yet if you look at the way most of us operate, we get excited about all sorts of things other than our relationship. We get excited about our work. And we pour our energy into that. We get excited about sports, or building things, or taking things apart or projects. But very few men get really excited talking about or thinking about their relationships. I often use the analogy that relationships for men are like buying a refrigerator. We go out and buy the refrigerator, bring it home, plug it in, and then we expect it to run without maintenance, year after year after year. And we think that our relationships should be like that: we want our relationships to run on automatic. And that’s why men are often surprised when their women come to them and say, “Let’s talk about the relationship.” And then the guys say, “Well, why talk about it, what is there to say?” It’s like, why would you talk about your refrigerator? And so we don’t want to grapple with those kinds of questions because we feel like we’re inadequate, we don’t have the words or the insights. As you said, we may be afraid of the intimacy, of being vulnerable. But in a way, perhaps there’s another issue: we really don’t buy into the idea of shaping a relationship over time, of doing the work necessary. Most men don’t want to do the work.

John: Right. One of my favorite authors, the late great comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell, talked a lot about marriage. And he wrote something about it. And one of the things I remember him saying quite often is that marriage is not a love affair; he said it’s more like an ordeal. He didn’t mean that in a necessarily negative way. But what do you think are the traps of expecting one’s relationship to be this always ongoing hot love affair?

Marty: I think it’s a recipe for disaster and for feeling unfulfilled quite often. And what the core of that is, what the fundamental issue is, is expecting the other person to complete us. Every human being needs to feel complete and whole. The illusion of marriage is that that person we married is going to make us feel whole. And when they don’t and there’s not romance, and there’s not these good feelings of wholeness and love and completion, then we blame the other person, and we feel cheated and hurt. It’s very human to feel those things. And yet they’re coming from, in my view, an expectation of relationships that relationships can never meet. We will never find our real happiness and completion from another person.

And so what you said about Joseph Campbell saying marriage is an ordeal, I think, in another way he might have been trying to express that marriage is a quest. It is a quest for learning how to feel complete and full on our own and how to love another person fully in that quest. And in my view, it’s a terrific challenge. And it’s a quest unlike the ones that we try so hard to get now. People go surfing and mountain climbing and repelling and bungee jumping and all those things trying to find some kind of great challenge and quest. And I think that marriage can be that—a quest, a mythic journey. And yet, do we really want to rise to the occasion?

I was on a plane a while back when my book (“Straight Talk for Men About Marriage”) first came out, and there was a man next to me who was a very successful and distinguished professor in a university on the east coast. And we were chatting, and I showed him the book. He was reading it and I fell asleep. When I woke up, he’d gotten about a third of the way through it, and he was really excited by the thought that he could do something about his own marriage! And he began to tell me about how terrible his marriage was and how far apart he and his wife were and how alienated he felt from his own wife and kids. He really hadn’t seen before, he hadn’t gotten the clarity, that he could do something about it. I know that sounds silly, but so many men feel that way, that that quest of having a great relationship is not their territory. That it’s better left to women. And I think that’s a real mistake.

John: Or we live in the illusion that we’re simply with the wrong person and despite our best efforts we’re just not going to be able to make it work.

Marty: Isn’t that funny. The grass is always greener. We find another person. We think, “This one will make me happy”. We think, “Surely this one won’t bring up our issues and make us feel terrible”. And yet, I’m talking to a couple right now, and the woman has been married, I believe, either 3 or 4 times, and has had multiple relationships between those marriages. And each one of them had exactly the same issues for her. Even though on the surface the men had nothing in common, they each made her feel left out and abandoned, and they couldn’t communicate the way she wanted them to and so on. Do you think it’s possible that she’s choosing men over and over who will give her those same challenges? I think it’s very likely.

John: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And what do you think of this whole notion of the soul mate and people so anxious about finding the “right one.”

Marty: Yeah. Well, I think there is something to finding the right person. Whether that’s a soul mate or not, I don’t know. I know in India when arranged marriages are put together the parents consult the local astrologer. And the astrologer casts their horoscope charts and sees that they’re compatible. And if they are compatible, then they find the right day to be married, and they say it’s a perfect marriage, and that they are meant to be together. But it doesn’t mean in my mind that there might not be other people in another village who might be just as well suited. And I wonder sometimes if that’s not the case, that in a way as long as a person meets many of our criteria and can show us the issues that we need to be shown that they may be the perfect person for us. I wonder about that soul mate concept. I think it causes a lot of trouble for people because they keep looking for the perfect person. And the funny thing is when you “fall in love,” people seem like they’re the perfect person. Every single one that you fall in love with, get infatuated with, seems like the perfect person. And then after a few years of marriage, you realize how imperfect they are. So I do wonder about that soul mate business.

On the other hand, I believe strongly that karma plays a big part and that your mate is somebody that you’ve very likely have had past relationships in other lifetimes with. And if you want to look at it that way, then you can perhaps call that person your soul mate.

John: Uh-huh. And, what about this whole business of falling in love? Is that just inherently mysterious and it just…it happens of its own volition? Or is there some way to be more open to it or attuned to it? What’s going on there?

Marty: Well, I believe what’s going on is that we see someone, we meet someone, we get to know someone, who first feels like family. They feel like home to us. And that’s why we often pick people who bring out the issues we had with our parents, because they may mirror for us those feelings we had as children. And we feel like we’re “home”. And that feels familiar and somewhat cozy. Even if our home life wasn’t so great, we feel like we’re home. On another level, a less psychological level, I think that a person who we fall in love with is somebody who allows us to see the love that’s already in us. I think it’s an illusion and a fundamental misunderstanding to think that the love we feel is from that person. The way I look at it is that person triggers feelings of love within us. And that’s a good thing. I mean, I believe strongly that in marriage we can learn how to grow so that we feel more love. But, I think, the second part of your question is much more difficult to know: how to create that experience of falling in love. Isn’t that what you asked me?

John: Yeah. Yeah. More or less. Is it just inherently mysterious? Or is there some way to be, I don’t want to say to control it, but is there some way to be more effective? I’m just asking about this whole notion because, I guess, what my question comes from is how you’ll hear people say, “I fell in love”, and well, now “I fell out of love”. And people, I think, use that as an excuse sometimes.

Marty: Yeah. Well, I think, what we’re talking about there is what used to be called infatuation. You don’t hear that term much anymore. But, I think, that’s perhaps what it is because being “in love” is to me an unreal state. It is a state of projecting perfection on your mate. And we idealize that person. And just thinking about them makes us feel blissful, and that’s an unreal state. And, of course, it doesn’t last. That’s not the kind of love that I’m talking about, and, truthfully, what’s really interesting about marriage, is the feeling of love that we have for our mate as we deepen and change and mature over the years. And when we confuse adoration, that feeling of perfection and of walking on air, with that deeper love I think we cheapen what love is really about. People think that the feeling of love shouldn’t come and go in a marriage. And one of the things that I have experienced, and others as well, is how often there are times in your marriage where you really don’t even like the person you’re married to, much less love them. You feel strong aversion to them because they bring up so many difficult feelings in you. So I think we have to have a more expanded understanding of love rather than to think of it as that sort of adolescent “being in love” business.

John: Right. So, do you see the power of declaring love and in that sense generating it, inventing it, creating it, rather than relying on a feeling to overcome you?

Marty: Yes. I think what we declare is our own love. And we declare our commitment to be in relationship so that love is a purpose, so that our activities and our struggles are meant to evoke love. In other words, we stand in love when we declare. And that allows us to grow in our own love with our partner. And, of course, learning to love one person and fully see their true self and fully see them with love and accept them, that allows us to learn how to love others fully—and just as importantly to learn how to love ourselves.

John: Right.

Marty: And I think that the declaration not only has to be done at the beginning of the wedding, but it has to be done frequently throughout marriage. That’s why so many marriages get stale as the children grow up and leave, or as you have financial troubles, or as one person goes back to school and the other one doesn’t. So many things can happen to take the freshness out of a marriage. And each of us, I think, has to declare not only that we want to be in relationship and not only that we want love but that our lives are alive and that we want more from life, and that we’re willing to go for it full out. And that’s something I know you talk about a lot and help people with so much, John.

Marriage is something that has to be kept alive. I mentioned earlier that my work is mostly with men to understand marriage and with women to help them understand men, and we men often sell out on ourselves. I’m saddened to see how many men have put on armor around their whole life and particularly their marriages because they are afraid to make that declaration we’ve been talking about.

John: Right. Right. Let me ask you kind of a tricky question here. One of the paradoxes that I frequently run into is that on the one hand I want to encourage people to be happier and be more excited about life, and on the other hand I often see that the key to doing that is to, in fact, embrace the inherent suffering of life. So, in marriage I wonder if the same principle applies?

Marty: Very much, absolutely. In marriage we have a tremendous opportunity to see our shadows. We see the dark side of ourselves. We see the part of ourselves that we’d rather not grapple with. And there’s so much suffering in that. And ultimately the suffering that we experience in marriage is really not about the other person. Most of the time, it’s suffering about our own darkness, our own miserable patterns and emotions that we would rather not face, that our partner has allowed us to see. Marriage is such a great mirror that way. One of the things that I strongly recommend for men especially, but also for women, is to use every challenge in marriage as your inner work. When your wife says to you, “Why aren’t you taking responsibility for cleaning the dishes?” you know, it seems like a simple thing and we can get defensive about it or just ignore it. But why not look deeper and see? And so, I think that the work, the fundamental work, of being in a relationship, and in a marriage, is facing that suffering as you’ve called it, and taking responsibility for your own issues in the context of a relationship. And then we have breakthroughs, then we have opportunities to grow and move to the other side of those shadows into the light.

John: Right. But I wonder even when we break through, even in the best of times, there is still going to be an element of suffering. In fact, it seems to me the deeper you are in love, the deeper you cherish someone, the deeper also is a kind of poignant suffering, I suppose, may not be the right word, but that’s the one I have, because, of course, they won’t be with you all the time.

Marty: That’s right. Well, the suffering comes from attachment. And the truth is that marriage has attachment. Of course we’re attached to our mate. And yet learning how to love more deeply is really learning how to let go. And it’s a tremendous paradox.

John: Say more about that. You’re saying that the deeper you love the more willing you are to let go. What do you mean there?

Marty: Well, for example, we become more willing to let go in the way our spouse has to be. We become more willing to let go of the way our relationship has to look, and the way we spend time together, or whether we sleep together or sleep separately. There are so many attachments that we can let go of. We want things to be a certain way and that’s usually what keeps us attached as opposed to learning how to let go and allow things to evolve. And yet at a deeper level, I think your question is about the deeper attachment we have to another person who we know is going to die and get sick and so on or may leave us. And that’s why I said that it’s a paradox: of course we’ll be attached and we want that person in our lives, and yet the truest love is a love that doesn’t hold onto another person, doesn’t grasp at them, doesn’t try to make them ours. You know, that sense that “You belong to me, you are mine”, that whole sense of relationships is really deathly. And it’s deathly not only for the relationship but for the individual who holds onto that attachment…because they don’t belong to you. So it’s a paradox that we, of course, love and want to hold onto our mate, and yet truly loving is learning how to let go and learning how to experience love in ourselves instead of expecting to get it from another person.

John: Um. Yeah. I still wonder, though. Let’s say people come to you for coaching and I think in the back of their minds they want you to coach them about marriage in such a way that when the coaching is all complete their life is going to be happier and just easier to deal with…

Marty: Sure.

John: And more exciting and all of that. And I’m sure you can provide that in some sense. But I guess I still subscribe somewhat to the notion of no pain, no gain.

No vulnerability, no love. And where there is some vulnerability, there’s going to be an element of pain or hurting that’s just going to be there. And, I think, people would be a lot better off if they just learned to accept that.

Marty: I completely agree. And the pain that we feel is very often about our own issues, our own, as you said, our own vulnerability, our own inadequacies. And my point is facing those in the context of marriage allows us to go to the other side and we get to rise up above the ocean, put our head above the water for a little while and breathe the fresh air, and then we do feel that happiness that we want. But what most people think is, “If only she would change, then I’ll feel happy”. And what they want to talk about very often is how do they get the other person to change, and how bad that person is instead, of being willing to look at their own pain and their own vulnerabilities. So it is painful. And I think the intimacy of marriage is inherently painful that way because that person sees us like no one sees us, and they bring up issues in us that no one else can bring up in us, issues that have been shelved since childhood and left unexamined.

John: Right. Well, let’s pursue this a little bit further because I think there might be agreement here. There might be a certain disagreement which, of course, is perfectly acceptable. I know you’ve followed a spiritual path in your life for quite some time, which you can talk about it if you want. But I would say it’s along the yoga, Buddhist side of things. And so when you talk about, you know, nonattachment I wonder if that’s connected to your spiritual quest? And if so, I guess my fundamental question is is that approach different from the sort of romantic poet approach of a Shelley or a Byron or others, who were saying just give it all and, “You need this woman or this man like your life depends on it. And that’s what makes it so great.” Is your approach different? Or do you subscribe to that?

Marty: It’s somewhat different. You asked about my spiritual path. I’ve been practicing Siddha yoga for about 30 years, and it’s a path of meditation and devotion to a spiritual master. And through the devotion to the master and the spiritual practices that the master gives, it’s a path of understanding oneself and becoming more of who you really are.

Back to the question about the Romantics’ view of love and marriage: I think that, again, there’s a paradox here. I think that we can rejoice and accept and embrace romance as it comes to us and as we can express it appropriately as long as we hold it lightly. When we believe that those kinds of romantic ideals that Bryan and Shelley and the rest of the Romantics held up as the purpose of relationship, I think that it creates much more pain than it creates happiness. I think the important work is inner work, work to open up our own ability to love. It’s not ultimately about the other person. Of course we want companionship. Of course we want closeness and good sex. And we want our mates to be our best friend. And we want intimacy and all those wonderful things. But, again, the highest purpose for marriage is to use all of that as a context and a catalyst for learning to love more deeply and learning to become more your true self. Learning to love another person and holding them out as an ideal in the way that the Romantics held out beauty and so on as an ideal seems to me to be a path to real pain. And that is that pain of attachment that we spoke about before.

John: Ok. And would you say that your beliefs in that regard are influenced by your spiritual pursuit?

Marty: Sure. And when I think of spirituality, I am looking at it in as broad a posture as I can, meaning that the spiritual work is the work we do to understand our true natures, to understand and feel our own love and God’s love. And my path is working at seeing those as the same, that our greatest self and our greatest love is God’s love. And using marriage as an opportunity is a huge part of one’s spiritual path, if we choose it that way. When we have the same purpose in mind for a relationship that our mates do, and we have the same basic values about life, and we have a reasonable degree of communication skills, we have every chance, a wonderful chance, to stay together for a lifetime and make a marriage that’s happy and fulfilling.

John: Alright. Very good. Well, let’s lighten things up a little bit. When I was a kid, the first band I came to enjoy was KISS. And, of course, their lyrics are just completely sexist and there’s male control and all of that. But you never really pay any attention to that when you’re a kid. Now I don’t know if you hear this guy, but Gene Simmons is telling everyone he can tell that he thinks marriage is a complete crock and that the problem with marriage is that there are men in them. And he makes the point that, you know, men produce billions of sperm a day, I think, and women produce one egg a month. So it’s just…men are inherently not going to be non-monogamous. You just can’t stop the ravenous craving of men. What do you say to that?

Marty: Well, it reminds me of the old joke: why, out of all the thousands of sperm cells does only one reach the egg? And the answer is that all except that one refused to stop and ask directions! I think there’s something to that. And there are some scientists whose work I have briefly read who would say the same thing. And not all scientists but there are some who say that men are on this earth to “scatter their seed”. I think there is something to that, that we are built to prorogate the species, to look for mates. And in my mind, the only way--especially now when relationships are held so much more loosely, and society gives more permission to split up than it does to stay together--the question is: what do you want in your life? Do you simply want to go out and have sex with a lot of women, or do you want something greater? And if that’s what you want, to have sex with a lot of women, then fine. That’s what your life will be about. But fierce commitment part of that, to me, is remaining monogamous, and not because I have a big moral stance about it, but because I think that having one partner gives you a much greater chance of going through that eye in the needle and finding less suffering and more lasting happiness. It allows you to focus more on your own challenges. And, again, you’re not using marriage just as a place to get your rocks off and feel happy every night.

John: Right.

Marty: If that’s what you want, there’s a very good chance that you’ll find a woman at work or somewhere else that you’ll have sex with. And, again, it’s not that I think that there’s something inherently wrong with that and bad about that, but I think it’s just beside the point, at least from my point of view.

John: If you can say one thing to a married man that he could start doing that would change his marriage for the better, what would that be?

Marty: I’m going to say two things, and they’re related. The first one is whatever comes up take responsibility for it. And the reason why I say the two things are related is that the second one is to listen and be present. Invariably, what women complain about in their marriages and what makes women leave—and, by the way, about two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women--is that men are not being fully present, energetically there. And to listen well and be with your wife you have to be fully present. You can’t listen in a half-assed way. When you listen, for example, to criticism the best way for a man to get less criticism and more sex is to listen and take full responsibility, and as you listen and open up you can gradually become closer and more intimate and more authentic. That builds intimacy. And it’s tremendously rewarding. It will allow you to have a wife who is much more satisfied, and allow you to have a much richer life, married or otherwise. But, of course, it’s tough and challenging and it doesn’t stop. You don’t get to say, “I’m done.”

John: Ok. And if you could give one piece of advice to married women that would help them to better get along with their man, what would that be?

Marty: It’s to allow men to be men. In the last say 30 or 40 years there’s been a strange evolution of women thinking about men, and much of it has been to want men to be, in a way, more feminine. We men have been challenged to be more open, more intimate, more forthcoming, more able to talk about our feelings, be gentler, and so on. And all those changes have been long overdue and they’re very positive and useful. But what men have often heard is that we have to be like women instead of like men. We men need to feel again that it’s great to be masculine and that we’re not broken or “one-down” in our own homes. Often men tell me that they feel like they’re wrong all the time and that everything they do is wrong. So what I would suggest to women is to stop criticizing. Stop making your man wrong for being a man, and start taking responsibility for your own needs. Stop expecting your man to make you feel healed and better about everything, and start simply requesting in a loving and specific way what you want. Men really do want to please their wives. Men really do want to know what to do and how to feel successful and feel like heroes. And very often we men don’t know what to do. We feel like we’re wrong way too often. And that’s not a way to have a happy, masculine man, to make him feel like he’s a failure.

John: Right. Ok. Thank you very much for an excellent conversation, Marty.

Marty: This was a wonderful interview, John. Thank you for such interesting questions.

Pursuing Your Wife - After the Wedding

Everybody knows that single men like to pursue women, especially the special ones they hope to keep with them forever. A man will bring his beloved flowers, plan beautiful evenings, and even share his deepest feelings with her.

But what happens after the wedding? It doesn’t take long for a man to move his attention to something else, whether it’s his work, friends or sports. He assumes that special woman is his now, and he relaxes and gives up the pursuit. He believes that he can stop the chase because he’s caught his quarry. She’s on his side now, so there’s no longer a need for charming her.

When she begins to criticize and complain about his behavior, he’s surprised and disappointed. His reaction is, “I thought she was with me. Why is she causing so much trouble? What does she want out of me?” His wife, of course, wants what she saw in him when he was courting her. She wants that man who was so open, loving, intimate and caring.

Over and over, what I hear from women is that they want that man back, the one who was alive, interested and involved in the relationship. When women start to lose hope in their marriage, it’s very often because they feel neglected, and they want more attention and energy from their men. In other words, they want their men to be present with them again. In courtship a man is fully there, he’s fully present and attentive. He listens and cares for his woman’s welfare. He takes responsibility for changing his bad habits and weak points and he goes out of his way to show he loves her.

My advice for men is to start the pursuit again. Don’t let your spouse do all the heavy lifting to keep the relationship afloat. For instance: line up a nice evening on Saturday night; put energy into listening; appreciate and compliment your mate’s positive attributes; and go out of your way to show you love her. Then, keep it up. Your new, ongoing pursuit will re-capture your woman’s heart and bring excitement and love back into your life. Isn’t that worth doing?

Going Out With the Guys

My wife and I went to a party at a nightclub the other night. It was mostly attended by young men and women in their twenties and early thirties, and I enjoyed studying the endless poses, posturing, circling, feints and dodges of courtship. But all the while I couldn’t stop thinking of what awaited any of the couples that actually get married and attempt to claim their part of the fantasy we think of as marriage in America.

Do any young people really understand what it takes to stay married? Could they? We are all so filled with phony ideas that we get from movies, songs, magazines and all the rest of the American media machine in the new millennium that it’s almost impossible to understand what it means to be married. Our expectations for romance and love are wildly out of line with the reality of marriage. And the institutions that used to shape long-lasting marriages—religion, community, family, and schools—have become so weak that many young people look at marriage as conditional: “I’ll stay married as long as I can. If it gets too messed up I can always leave.”

One of the ways to remain balanced and sane in marriage is to make time to enjoy being with your own sex. Women typically do a better job of this than men for the simple reason that they are usually more sociable and enjoy making and maintaining social relations, while men tend to share less and reach out to others more seldom. Men who have been married a while often find themselves with no friends. Their lives revolve around work and family, and they begin to feel constrained and isolated.

I strongly believe that men of all ages need to hang out with men regularly, whether they are married or not. Marriage and children can blunt one’s masculine edge, and in being a home-body/father/husband we may lose much of our power. We are masculine beings and enjoying the company of male friends can help us feel our innate masculine energy. Besides, men act differently with only other men around, and it’s good to remember the “uncivilized” guy inside and goof around a little bit.

The challenges of young men differ from those of older ones. Young married men must learn to cultivate a life with one woman and to turn away from some of the careless and fun activities they had with their friends. For young men, this time can be painful, because they fear that their marriages will cause them to give up freedom and independence. When they try to hold onto old friendships with their drinking and carousing buddies it can be dangerous to the health of their marriages.

It’s wonderful to get away sometimes, but going out with buddies can raise some red flags. If you are a young married man who goes out regularly with a group of male friends, notice: Are you going out with the guys to places where there are available women? If you are, you are flirting with disaster as well as women. If you have a few drinks and “see what happens”, eventually something will happen, and you will have a sexual affair that will threaten your marriage. If you are in this boat I would seriously question whether you are ready for marriage.

On the other hand, many young men (and quite a few older ones, too) go out with the guys simply to escape their marriages, because they don’t want to deal with the inevitable problems and let-downs that marriage brings. Frequent escapes like this are dangerous and self-defeating, and they can weaken not only a man but his marriage. A strong man works through the issues in his marriage; he doesn’t run away.

The marriage fantasy has it that you marry the “perfect” woman and live happily ever after. If you want a life-time marriage, you have to learn how to be in the marriage for the long-haul, and you have to understand there will be times when it will be boring and you may not even like your wife, much less think she is perfect. The only way your marriage will last in today’s cultural climate is to make the fierce commitment that you won’t quit, no matter how hard it gets. I believe that men need to become “marriage warriors”, fighting for their marriages’ health, and they need to put much of their energy into making an alive, strong relationship. Our marriages need our attention. Hanging out with other men, however, can do wonders to help keep you sane.

You Belong to Me

One thing that has really gotten me into trouble in my marriage is thinking that I somehow own my wife or have any real claims on her. Now, before you take that the wrong way, please understand that I’m talking about a very subtle thing here. I don’t actually think I “own” my wife the way you own a piece of furniture or a car. What I mean is that I have believed at some level that being married means she somehow belongs to me, and therefore I can expect certain regular benefits from her. How many popular songs have helped us think of our mates this way? “You’re Mine” and “You Belong to Me” and “When I Make You Mine”?

When we get married we are supposed to unite with another and “become one”; we share resources and we feel that our wives are somehow extensions of us. We take pride in their appearance and accomplishments and feel down when they fail or feel bad. Marriage, we are taught, is all about feeling that you are “one” with your spouse. But, becoming one with another person can be full of pain unless we have the right understanding about it.

The only way to become one with another person is to become truly “one” with yourself. It’s a paradox: the key to becoming united with your loved one is to become a more loving person, one who is complete and strong alone. Learning to love that way requires that we give up expecting our spouses to complete us, make us feel better on demand, or provide services in the kitchen, bedroom or anywhere else. I have experienced firsthand how destructive those expectations within a marriage can be.

Every time I think my wife somehow owes me sex or affection it seems to push her away and ends up making me feel more alone and incomplete. It’s not the asking that’s the problem; it’s the idea I have that she’s mine that creates the trouble. If something is mine I can control it. If it’s not I’ve got to let go—and that’s the hardest thing for me to do sometimes.

We have to understand that the fundamental contract of marriage is one that is founded on free will. If our women cook our dinner, have sex with us, or even show up happily for another day of marriage we can give thanks for their presence. Truly, they don’t owe us anything.

It’s great to be a couple and to have a lifelong companion, friend and lover. But, give up the notion that your spouse “belongs” to you. The belief that your spouse is “yours” will feed poison into the veins of your marriage.

Do Men Need to Be More Like Women?

Lately I’ve been thinking about how men approach marriages. Once the courting phase is over and the marriage has settled down (within the first 1-3 years), we may become pretty passive about our marriages. We do “care”; it’s just that we want our marriages to work without having to think much about them. We want our woman there, ready and willing to love us, nurture us, and have sex with us (not necessarily in that order). But we don’t want to do a lot of maintenance on the relationship.

In fact, a man can go for weeks without giving much thought to his marriage, once he thinks it’s up and running. He wants it to function like a refrigerator, to run well for a long, long time so he can forget about it while still enjoying its benefits. Like marriage, a refrigerator is important and necessary, but once it’s up and running he figures it shouldn’t need much attention. It may get too cold at time and then he’ll try to fix it. And occasionally the light may go out and he may pay attention then, too. But he is going to be most interested only if the power goes out altogether.

Similarly, a man is likely to figure that his marriage is doing fine unless his wife tells him it isn’t, especially when she begins to send the message that she’s about to leave him. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his mate; he wants to enjoy being with her. It’s just that he’d rather put his focus on his work or sports or other things about which he knows something and feels competent to perform and succeed.

If we men want better relationships with our women, we have to be willing to commit our energy, hearts and mind. Letting a marriage run on automatic doesn’t cut it any more, because most women won’t allow it. Besides, those kinds of marriages are no fun; they’re easier in some ways, but they are much more boring!

Anyway, I think about all this when men tell me that their wives/girlfriends are constantly bugging them to talk about what they feel and be more in touch with their feelings. (Their women usually end up telling them what they must be feeling, and that makes them even more angry and defensive.) What can a man do to turn this situation around?

Here’s the answer: we have to be willing to take total responsibility for what we feel and what we say and do in our marriages, and we must learn to become comfortable and proficient in the way we express ourselves. When a man takes complete responsibility for exploring and expressing his inner life he’ll get his power back, and he won’t care whether he satisfies his wife’s yardstick for being in touch with his feelings.

Men have evolved differently than women; over tens of thousands of years we learned to gaze outward to conquer, defend, hunt, create, and build. Women, on the other hand, learned to care for families, children, emotions, and the entire “unseen” realm. We all know that this is changing for both sexes; women are moving into traditionally male areas and vice versa. But it will take a long, long, time before our biology adapts to allow all men easy access to their emotions and to commune with others as well.

Our society has recently created a crazy idea: men should be like women in the way we listen, talk and feel and we should deal with relationships like women do; we should listen with tremendous empathy, strive for harmony, and speak fluidly about our feelings. This is patently absurd, and if a man buys into this idea he will constantly feel like a failure. If you observe how men communicate you will see instances of different communication style, not necessarily a worse communication style. (See Deborah Tannen’s work for research about this.)

My advice to men is this: talk about your life the most openly and honestly you can. Your wife deserves your commitment to intimate communication. But she doesn’t have a right to expect you to communicate in the same manner as women. If she wants that kind of communication, she should talk to other women.

If you take on the challenge of becoming familiar with your inner life, you will learn more about your feelings and how to talk about them and you’ll be a much happier person. Self-knowledge is power, and you’ll be stronger without having to keep up the “armor” that so many men set up to protect themselves. But, forget about communicating better to please a woman, because that will only weaken you. It’s not about communicating like a woman; it’s about communicating like a full human being.

Assessment for Men in Marriage

To create a long-term relationship you need a roadmap to follow. Rather than simply reacting to your mate, it's great to have a core set of principles and guidelines that guide you along the way. Here's a simple test that will give you an idea of what it takes to make a marriage.

Place a Check Mark Next to the Statements That Apply to You as a Marriage Partner

1. I am 100% committed to keeping my marriage alive and strong.

2. I listen to the criticism my spouse gives me so I can hear what she requests or needs from me.

3. I have a clear and inspiring vision for my marriage, and I am committed to it.

4. I take total responsibility for my own internal issues, feelings and blind spots, and I don’t expect my spouse to take care of them.

5. I listen to understand how my wife feels, and I don’t interrupt or try to solve the problem she presents.

6. I stand up for my wife’s well-being and growth, even if I have to challenge her sometimes--and I expect the same from her.

7. I ask for honesty from my wife, and I give the same.

8. I understand how to connect with my spouse so she will feel more motivated to have sex with me.

9. I deal with conflict openly and with integrity: I stay in the room, try to listen to my spouse, and attempt to resolve the issues.

10. I openly and constructively communicate my own needs and feelings (even though I may not do it like a woman would).

11. I feel like I can be a strong, masculine person at home—not wimpy or macho.

12. I am OK with my wife being a powerful person in the world.

Scoring: Total all the check marks.

If you scored 9-12: Good Going! You are a man who has a great chance to succeed at marriage. Time to tackle the few questions you didn’t check.

If you scored 5-8: OK, you have a lot to learn, but there’s lots of hope!

If you scored 1-4: You need to get to work if you want your marriage to last a while. Your current path may take you over a cliff.

It’s Time to Become “Relationship Warriors”

We’ve all heard it: men are clueless when it comes to relationships. Relationships are women’s territory, not men’s. It does seem true that testosterone and thousands of years of evolution give men the ability and inclination to be warriors, to go out, hunt and kill our prey, and to keep our tribe safe and equipped with food and shelter. In other words, we are equipped to respond to external stimulation with aggression and ambition. We often apply these skills today to our careers, and they are abundantly useful in athletics. But, compared to women, most men are much less comfortable and adept at looking inward, whether delving into the complexity of intimate relationships or exploring their own feelings.

I often think that we men treat relationships and marriage like buying a refrigerator: we go out and buy one, set it up, plug it in, and then expect it to run for a long, long time without any maintenance or cleaning. Recently, a man told me, “My marriage must be going OK, because if it isn’t, my wife would’ve yelled at me about it!” Most men don’t want to think too much about their marriages. They especially don’t want to talk about them. If you want to see a man squirm, watch him when his wife says, “Let’s talk about the relationship”. The worst part of those conversations comes when a woman says, “So, how do you think our relationship is going?” (The man knows there’s a right answer—he just isn’t sure what it is!)

So many men are confused about what’s required in the area of marriage. We men do want to make our relationships work; who wants a lousy marriage? But, it feels like women and therapists have all the answers. It’s like they speak a unique “relationship language”, while we can’t even find the dictionary!

Many men expect and hope that their marriages will run well while they go out to conquer the world. They are often surprised when their relationships get into trouble while they are looking the other way. Times have changed, and a lot of men haven’t noticed.

In the 21st Century, women have much more economic and social power and the stigma of divorce has lessened. As a consequence, women expect more from their husbands today and feel much freer to leave their marriages if they aren’t satisfied. So, for many men, the heat’s on: change or you lose your woman. But there’s more at stake here. Our committed relationships have great, unexplored potential for us, for it’s in a committed relationship that we learn to grow stronger and more loving, and have the opportunity to illuminate and whittle down the blunt edges of our egos. After all, who knows us as well as our women? We know we need and want great relationships with women, but we are learning that what worked in the past is sinking fast in the rough waters of relationships.

I believe that we need to change our whole view of relationships and marriage. The good news is that we men already have what it takes to make relationships and marriages work—and we don’t need to become more like women. In fact, the opportunity is to become more like men, powerful, aware and fully masculine. How? The answer is to utilize our birthright: our warrior spirits, to become “relationship warriors”, as well as warriors in the world of work.

We already bring much to relationships, qualities that are too often overlooked or under-utilized. Men are naturally inclined to act, to build and to solve problems. We have the power to dream and put our dreams into concrete action, and to make powerful commitments and stick to them. We are usually able to keep our distance from the daily swirl of feelings, because our biology allows us to focus intensely outward. Men have the power to stand for something great and to fight for it with resolve.

Now it’s time to stand up for something important: the power of our relationships and marriages as vehicles for love, growth and true fulfillment. We men can stand firm in our marriage commitments. We can learn to take full responsibility for the relationship’s success, to pull our own weight, not expecting our wives to do all the heavy relationship lifting or “take care” of us. We also can learn to tune-in to our spouses and appreciate and listen to them better. A man who can listen with empathy and caring becomes a greater man.

It’s time to put our energy and attention into getting what we truly care about. It’s time to be relationship warriors and to commit ourselves 100% to creating alive, powerful unions with the women we love.

©2007, Marty Friedman

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Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. - Simone Signoret

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